Keeping Score

C-USA Top 5: Marshall in position for special season

This marks the 20th and final installment of C-USA Top 5, a series that has ranked Conference USA's top football teams and players since the league was first established 20 years ago.

In the last list, we looked at the top players for the 2014 season.

Today, we take a closer look at the five teams expected to be the best this season in Conference USA.

Of all the top five lists in this series, the No. 1 for this group may have been the easiest to choose.

Marshall enters the 2014 campaign with a genuine shot at 12-0 if it manages to stay healthy. 

For the rest of C-USA, it's just a matter of playing catchup with the Thundering Herd.

Here we have it, the top five C-USA teams for the 2014 campaign:

1. Marshall: The Thundering Herd came up short of a C-USA title in 2013 when it lost at Rice in the title game, but it managed to end the season on a positive note with a 31-20 victory over Maryland in the Military Bowl. Many of the key pieces are back, including star senior quarterback Rakeem Cato. Marshall has Cato's favorite receiver back in Tommy Shuler, who has caught 100 passes in each of the last two years, and preseason C-USA Defensive Player of the Year James Rouse, a defensive tackle. The C-USA title is there for the taking for Marshall.

2. North Texas: The Mean Green's 9-4 season in 2013 should be considered no fluke. Dan McCarney built a competitive program at lowly Iowa State, and he is doing the same at North Texas. There are holes to fill, but don't expect North Texas to let up this year. McCarney has four of five starters back on the offensive line and plenty of options at running back. The Mean Green could reach eight or nine wins again this year. 

3. Texas-San Antonio: The Roadrunners made the rest of the West Division sweat last year when they threatened to win the West title when they weren't even considered bowl eligible as a program still in transition to the FBS level. UTSA went 7-5 last year and won six games in C-USA play. UTSA returns the vast majority of the starters from last year's team and a West title is within reach this season.

4. Florida Atlantic: The Owls went through a tumultuous 2013 season that involved head coach Carl Pelini being forced out following some off-the-field controversy. Somehow, the Owls got it together for a four-game winning streak to get to 6-6. They didn't make a bowl game in 2013, but there's no denying that there's plenty of talent on the FAU roster. Expect the Owls to build on last season under new head coach Charlie Partridge.

5. Rice: Coach David Bailiff continues to do a great job at Rice, but the room for error is always small for the Owls. Rice is coming off a 10-4 season that included a C-USA championship. There's good reason to believe that Rice will again be in the bowl hunt, but it's unlikely the ball will bounce their way as much as it did in 2013. As UTSA and North Texas continue to develop as top programs in the league, expect Rice to take a slight step back.